January 31, 2011

Fried Sardine — Mathi Varuthathu

Finding fresh sardines in the market is a treat, and it is hard to resist the temptation of buying these smelly, oily, toothsome little creatures. The sardines we get back home are much smaller than the ones found here. But they are still such heavenly little bites when pan-fried! They sure outshine any other fried fish, I say.

Keralites have a special tie to mathi or chaala. It’s almost impossible to imagine Kerala cuisine without it. Delicacies like mathi mulakittathu (sardines in fiery red sauce), mathi varuthatu (fried sardines), mathi vattichathu (sardines cooked dry) are some of the favorite Malayali dishes.

Did you know that these little yummy goodness’s, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, are beneficial for cardiovascular health? Besides, they are excellent sources of vitamin B12, proteins, calcium, phosphorus, and niacin. The bottom line is sardines are nutritional powerhouses, and that too, on a budget. Brilliant way of eating healthy! Did I tempt you?

When buying fresh sardine, make sure you cook them in a day or two, preferably on the same day. Being highly perishable, they start to smell and turn mushy, if stored for more than few days.

Fried Sardine — Mathi Varuthathu


5 sardines, scaled and gutted
2 teaspoon kashmiri chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoon peppercorns
2 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon oil, plus extra for shallow frying
1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
2 sprig curry leaves
salt, to taste


Working with one sardine at a time, cut off heads and tails, and rinse them in fresh lemon juice and water. Make horizontal gashes on both sides; set aside.

Crush peppercorns to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or blender. Then add chili powder, turmeric, ginger-garlic paste, vinegar, 1 teaspoon oil and a bit of water. Blend to make a thick paste. Season.

Marinate fish in this mixture, massaging some of the marinade into the cavity of each fish. Let sit, at room temperature, for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to set in.

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add the whole sprig of curry leaves and then place the fish. Shallow fry for about 2 minutes each side or until cooked and browned. Adjust the cooking time to how you prefer them. If, like me, you like the idea of enjoying crispy sardines, fry a bit more. Take care not to overcook as the fish dries out quickly losing its delicate flavor. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

For a much healthier version, you can grill or bake the fish instead of frying.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon to give it a zing; enjoy hot and crisp!


  1. looks very tempting, nice pictures.

  2. delicious marinate looks wonderful

  3. First time in your blog... you have a relly nice space here with beautiful pictures and delicious recipes :)...

  4. Hi, thank y'all for your cheerful words!

  5. very nice

  6. Hey anonymous, whoever you are, thank you! :)

  7. Hi,
    Thanks for the recipe. Today we tried this for our guest. Very nice. We are trying this type of recipe now.

  8. Houseboat, I'm really pleased to know this. Thanks so much for the feedback!

  9. AnonymousJune 08, 2012

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  10. For gutting, you may use a scissor to make the under-belly cut. Much better and easier than a knife.

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